Thank you, my darling son

These were Scott Simon’s recent tweets about his 84-year-old mom, Patricia Newman, after she died. Scott is a host of National Public Radio

 

Scott and Patricia

Dear Patricia,

I didn’t know you, and I don’t know your son, but you were obviously a winning team. Sure, Scott’s certainly poetic and a fine Tweeter, but for a son to make those two statements about his mom, now  THAT’S SOMETHING!

I saw Scott being interviewed this morning by Gayle King (she’s Oprah’s big pal) on Good Morning America. Great-looking son you’ve got there, by the way. You probably know this already, but his Tweets about you as you lay dying got so much attention, he’s now a bigger celeb than he was before. That’s got to make you feel good.

Gayle showed us your photos and you were quite a beauty. I wasn’t surprised to read that you were once a model. I also love your humor. Scott told us that you said so many “flabbergastingly insightful and funny things.” I smiled at your quote, “Look baby, I tell you all great death-bed speeches are written in advance.”

I also can’t get the image out of my mind of your son holding you “like a baby” after you cried out “Help Me.”

It’s often said that we have children, in part, so we can feel less mortal, that we’ll ‘live on’ through them. If that’s the case, you will certainly live on through Scott. Since his touching messages have gone viral, many strangers have reacted. One of his followers tweeted, “I haven’t held my mother’s hand in a long time, thank you for reminding me that time is fleeting and that I need to do that.”

My son sent me an email this morning: “I just watched the Morning Joe segment with the guy from NPR who tweeted about his mom dying and it made me think I should see you more so I don’t regret it when you are dying many years from now.

Maybe we can have dinner every other Monday.”

WOW, Patricia, you and Scott are giving other mothers all around the world great joy today.

Rest in Peace, beautiful woman (inside and out.)

Fondly,

Geri Brin

*photo source: www.npr.org

What’s the opposite of Assisted Living? Unassisted Death

I don’t know about you, but I have no intention whatsoever of going to live at an “assisted living” facility, no less a nursing home. If it gets to the point that I need to reside in either, I am doing myself in. Clean and simple. Alzheimer’s scares me more than cancer, and more than death, so once I see I’m fading, I am not going to wait until I have completely lost my mind.

Joan Boice did not have a pretty end to her life

As if I needed anything to cement my convictions, I still watched a Frontline documentary on PBS last night, called Life and Death in Assisted Living. Focused on Emeritus, the leader in the behemoth $18.6 billion unregulated industry, this was one of the most disturbing hours I’ve spent in a long time. In a nutshell, Emeritus has been responsible for the deaths of a number of its residents due, in large part, to insufficient or untrained staffs. Often accepting people who need far more supervision and medical care than it could provide, Emeritus let finances trump patient care. “We were constantly told we had to make our numbers,” said a former saleswoman, so they admitted people who should have gone to live in skilled nursing home facilities, not in assisted living environments.

The documentary tells the story of Joan Boice, who, in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, went to live at Emerald City, one of the Emeritus communities in California. Her grown children bought the company’s sales pitch, and because Emerald City was close to their homes, it seemed the best choice for mom. Left alone, and with the ability to move about freely, Joan fell days after moving in, although no one seemed to know what caused the accident. After a hospital stay, she went back to Emerald City, where she was again neglected.

Severe bed sores developed, which the staff literally covered up with blankets, and because Joan’s children didn’t think to ask their mom to look at her body, the sores festered. Joan died. The family sued. Emeritus tried to make the case go away by offering $3 million and asking the family for all of its files. The family refused. The case went to trial. The family was recently awarded $22 million in punitive damages.

Another resident fell out a window. A renowned college football coach, Darrell Royal, died because he wandered into a kitchen at an assisted living facility and accidentally drank industrial strength cleaning liquid. “He looked like a monster,” his daughter recalled, and she prayed his Alzheimer’s would prevent him from knowing what had happened.

If any of my FOFriends is considering moving a parent into an assisted living environment, please, please do your homework. At least you know which one you can cross off your list.

*photo credit: www.propublica.org

What Would YOU Decide?

A sixty-something man I know has been paralyzed for years, from the neck down, a result of Lou Gehrig’s disease. Whenever I’ve seen him, I couldn’t comprehend how he tolerated living like that. I’d say to myself, ‘I never could.’

When I saw the cover story in The New York Times Magazine this past Sunday, I devoured every word because it was about another man, also paralyzed from the neck down, from a horrific bike accident. An English professor, this 71-year-old gentleman is fed through an eating tube, breathes through a ventilator in his trachea, and uses a battery-operated machine that paces the movement of his diaphragm.

Often depressed and in pain, he still teaches a class, reads voraciously and loves his adoring wife, with whom he’s shared his life for over three decades.

His wife, a professor of philosophy who (coincidentally) writes about end-of-life bioethics, has always believed that a patient with a grievous or terminal illness had the right to determine how he or she would die. Suddenly, however, she wasn’t so sure how she’d feel if it were her husband who wished to die.

“Alongside her physically ravaged husband, she would watch lofty ideas be trumped by reality—and would discover just how messy, raw and muddled the end of life can be,” the article states. “’Can I imagine standing by while his ventilator was switched off?’” she told the author of the Times article.

While focusing on the confusion into which she’s thrown by her husband’s state, the article doesn’t address how the wife would feel if the roles were reversed. Maybe we can really never know, and if we’re lucky enough, we won’t ever find out what we’d decide if faced with the terrifying choice whether to live or whether to die.

Even if the Times piece made me a little less certain how I’d personally react to this nightmarish scenario, it’s also reinforced something I’ve been feeling for the last few years: We must thank God (or whomever you chose to thank) when we wake up each morning and consciously take our first breath. And we must stop self-pitying, complaining, whining, and all that other stuff that prevents us from enjoying every unencumbered breath after that one.

The deliciousness of life


In the summer of 1988, I took a one-day business trip to Nashville, TN, that would dramatically alter the course of my life. On the way back, we stopped in Atlanta to change planes. Before the flight took off, I had met a man with whom I would fall in love and spend the next 12 years.

One moment is sometimes all it takes to make a dramatic impact on our lives, good or bad. A doctor giving us dreadful news about the results of a test; a child who dies suddenly in a freak accident; an unexpected call from an old colleague offering us the job of our dreams; moving ahead of one person in the line to buy lottery tickets and winning $300 million.

When we’re young we don’t think quite as much about the twists and turns of our lives as we do now. We couldn’t wait to see what lurked around the corner. We experimented. We plunged ahead. We lived on the edge. We were indestructible, invincible, and impervious to the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

On one hand, we may be more at peace with ourselves now, but hasn’t a bit of caution also crept into our lives?

“Oh, I’d better not eat that spicy curry dish. It might give me indigestion.”

“Those subway stairs are pretty treacherous in the winter. I don’t want to fall and break my leg.”

“Uh Oh. I swear that mole on my arm has gotten bigger.”

“The back left tire on the car looks like it’s losing air. What if it causes an accident on the way to the gas station?”

“Why isn’t the pilot de-icing the wings? Is he crazy? We’re all going to die.”

“If I climb up on the ladder to change the light bulb, I may lose my balance and crash to the ground.”

It’s not always fun getting up there in age, but aren’t we lucky we have? So even if we sometimes worry about indigestion, life is really delicious and we’ve got to relish it every chance we can.

The man with no questions

The husband of a close friend never asks anything about my life. No matter when I have contact with him—on the street, at a dinner, if he answers the phone—he neglects to ask things like: ‘How are your kids? How’s your business? How’s your new grandson?’ As a matter of fact, he never even congratulated me when he heard my grandson was born. I guess he leaves that up to my friend, his wife.

It’s not as if this man discriminates against me. As far as I can tell, he doesn’t ask anyone questions that show he has even a passing concern about them or their families. I’m not asking him to fall all over me and act obsequiously. But I think it would be nice if he faked a tiny bit of interest.

I, on the other hand, ask people questions about themselves and their lives all the time. It’s in my journalistic blood. Besides, knowing about people makes them more interesting to me. It’s fine to talk about current events, new movies and restaurants, but going behind the scenes of a person’s life makes her more alive, gives her more dimension.

If others don’t want to answer my questions, they can tell me to shut up. They rarely do. As a matter of fact, people often tell me they never reveal so much to others as they reveal to me. I think it’s because I make them feel comfortable when I talk to them. Showing people you care about what they’re doing also makes them feel good. Doesn’t it give us all a little pleasure when we can share positive things about our families, our accomplishments and ourselves?

I have observed, however, that men are more likely to avoid asking personal questions because a.) They’re generally not psychological beings b.) What they’re doing and feeling generally takes priority over what you’re doing and c.) They tend to be wrapped up in their own little worlds. But I always prefer the ones who do.

To gray or not to gray?

I wish The New York Times had included a photo of FOF Leah Rozen’s gray hair when it ran her column in the other day’s Sunday Style Section (She’s Done With Washing It Away; June 23, 2013)? Then we could have seen the state of her “gray.” Is she lucky enough for it to be shimmering, silky silver or snow white, or it is salt and pepper and resembling straw? I use the distinction because gray hair–like blond, red, and brown hair—comes in many shades and textures, and while some of it looks sexy and spectacular, other gray hair looks ghastly. Coloring hair, for many FOFs, has less to do with looking “young” than with looking better. My gray hair, like my mom’s, is firmly in the salt and pepper straw category. While mom chose to go au naturel, I look brighter and perkier when my hair returns to the color it used to be.

“Most women my age, at least in the not-especially-rarefied circles in which I travel, dye their hair. It’s easier and less painful than a face-lift or Botox injections, those other popular weapons in the ceaseless battle for eternal youth. That’s a struggle from which I’ve opted out,” Leah writes.

Fiddle-faddle. I suspect Leah wears a bra to lift her FOF breasts, dresses in more than hopsacking to enhance her FOF body and might even pick out cute frames to help focus her FOF eyes. Why, then, doesn’t she think clothes and accessories are “weapons,” and a “struggle” with which to deal? Perhaps she should shed herself of these, too.

Leah also says she’s “cheap,” that it was costing her “north of $800 annually” to color her hair at her “neighborhood Manhattan hair salon.”

Fiddle-faddle. Home hair color costs as little as $8 a box (and even really good, custom-blended color from e-Salon costs $20 a box). So coloring your hair a casa would cost decidedly less each year than $800.

As a single woman, Leah says she doesn’t have to “ask my husband or significant other if he minded being seen squiring around an obvious incipient geezer.”

Fiddle-faddle. As an independent progressive woman, I trust Leah wouldn’t be kowtowing to a husband, if she had one. And to those women who do want to please their husbands, I say, “Nothing wrong with that.”

Leah said he mother advised her to “grow old gracefully,” which included not dyeing her hair.

Fiddle-faddle. Some of the most graceful FOFs on the planet dye their hair. Think Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren.

“I’m 57 but look like an old lady. That’s because my hair is gray,” Leah began her column.

I’m 66 but I don’t look like an old lady. That’s because I color my hair, had some work done on my face, wear makeup and think I look cool in some of the trendiest fashions.

It’s still me, only not gray.

What would you tell Alice if she was your friend?

I have a FOFriend [I’ll call her Alice] who has been married for decades to an emotionally abusive man with a hair trigger temper. Whatever joy Alice felt decades ago has trickled away. Her husband has taken care of her financially; they’ve raised three children and their sex life is pretty good. Besides having an explosive temper, her husband doesn’t care about Alice’s thoughts, opinions, advice or passions. He is king of the manor and that’s all there is to it.

Alice is a petite and pretty woman, with a compassionate and giving nature. She is one of the most psychologically astute people I know, and understands herself better than most people.

Alice never looked at another man or entertained separating from her husband, that is, until about four months ago, when she began an affair with a [unhappily] married man. She and her “lover” talk incessantly “about everything” and he makes Alice feel smart, something her husband never does. She says she’s in love.

The other evening Alice left her cell phone on the table and her 19-year-old daughter read a text message that revealed her affair. “My daughter became hysterical and told me, ‘I’m going to tell daddy if you don’t. He deserves to know,’” Alice told me. Since then, Alice’s daughter has threatened her a few times. She’s written lengthy text messages telling Alice how she’s hurting her and her siblings. She’s also told her siblings what happened.

Alice is obviously in a pretty tough predicament. Putting aside the morality of the situation (I, for one, completely understand her actions and do not condemn them one bit), what do you think Alice should say to her daughter and what should she do?

 

Who wins the bread in YOUR family?


When our son, Colby, was 18 months old, in 1980, Douglas and I knew we had to dismiss the young woman who watched him while we were at work. She preferred socializing and smoking with her friends, while Colby sat in the stroller. She also had his beautiful curly hair cut “like a boy” because that’s what she thought best. She hadn’t consulted with us.

Douglas didn’t love his job at the time and wanted to quit and stay home with Colby. Even though “house-husbands” were pretty unconventional 33 years ago, I thought it was a brilliant idea. If Douglas stayed home, I wouldn’t have to worry when I stayed late at the office or travelled out of town. Colby would be in good hands.

Besides, I couldn’t quit, even if I had wanted to (I didn’t), because I was the “primary breadwinner.” We could never make do on Douglas’s salary alone. I loved my job, and, at 33, my career was steadily moving ahead, as was my salary.

That was then. This is now: A new report from the respected Pew Research Center shows that almost 40 percent of women are the sole or primary breadwinners for their families. This is likely the result of the recent recession, as well as the increase in births to single mothers. The number of married mothers earning more than their husbands nearly quadrupled, from 4 percent in 1960 to 15 percent in 2011. Single mothers, who are sole providers for their families, increased from 7 to 25 percent during that time.

Although I grew up hearing that men should take care of their families, financially that is, I never really thought that made much sense. Why should a man shoulder that burden? My talents and drive were just as meaningful as any man’s. Why wouldn’t I use them?

Interestingly, more and more young men today are deciding to “lean out,” and participate more in their children’s lives than they ever did, as well as shouldering more domestic responsibility. It doesn’t mean they’re giving up their careers to stay home, like Douglas did, but they’re also not sacrificing their families to stay at work.

Balancing work and life is challenging and complicated for everyone and I don’t think one size fits all. Each couple has to decide what’s best for it, not base its actions on what anyone else is doing. Douglas and I did. I know my daughter and her husband will.

I’d love to know what you did.

My Daughter, Myself



Linda and daughter Jessica

As a charter subscriber in 1968 for a new magazine, called New York, I’d read it cover to cover, often admiring the feature articles by a writer named Linda Wolfe. I’d secretly wish I could write as well as she, not to mention write for a magazine as massively popular as New York. Linda later became a renowned author of non-fiction books, including Wasted: The Preppie Murder 1989 and THE LITERARY GOURMET: Menus From Masterpieces. She was considered part of the journalist intelligentsia. She still is.

Three years ago, a new tenant was moving into the big apartment down the hall. “She’s a writer,” one of the doormen told me. (New York City doormen know about absolutely everyone who lives in their buildings; they’re our local FBI agents.) He didn’t know her name. When my new neighbor and I shared an elevator, we smiled and introduced ourselves. Of course, you’ve surely guessed it by now: Linda Wolfe was going to live 50 feet from me! Now I could admire Linda Wolfe up close and personal. I was thrilled.

Linda subsequently became a dear friend, not to mention the book reviewer for FabOverFifty. Although we were forced out of our apartments last year (when the building’s new owners started converting the units from rentals to condos), we’ve remained friends who live on opposite ends of town. Linda is one of the smartest, warmest, and most stimulating women I know.

A couple of weeks ago I gave Linda a party for her latest book, My Daughter, Myself: An Unexpected Journey. The memoir is extra special, whether or not you personally know Linda, because it’s the personal story of her 38-year-old daughter’s near-fatal stroke, initial misdiagnosis, the grueling physical and mental rehab that led to Jessica’s remarkable recovery, and how the journey from illness to health affected every member of the family.

I wanted to reprint the first paragraph of the book here, because it immediately grabs you, just like every single thing Linda has ever written and will write in the future:

“The nightmare began, although I didn’t recognize it at the time, on a Mother’s Day weekend a few years ago. I was in San Antonio, Texas, having flown down from my home in New York City to spend the weekend with my daughter, Jessica, her husband, and their children, my two young granddaughters. Sometime in the black-as-pitch hours before dawn on Sunday morning, Jessica was startled into wakefulness by a splitting headache. She went to the bathroom, used the toilet, splashed water on her face, and was headed back to bed, when suddenly one of her legs gave way beneath her and she fell.”

Called by one esteemed author “a universal testament to the mother/daughter bond,” My Daughter, Myself reveals Linda’s exceptional ability to look as much inward as outward. While Linda learns the foreign language of hospitals and illness, she also learns how to translate her and her daughter’s feelings and actions. Just like the flesh and blood Linda I know, the Linda you meet in the book is funny, passionate, insightful, a brilliant observer and a font of information about a serious medical issue that affects 1 in 1,000 people 45 and younger.

I strongly urge you to click right on over to amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com, order My Daughter, Myself, and start reading the first opportunity you get.

Although you may not be blessed to count Linda Wolfe as your dear friend, you’ll wish she were when you’re done.

What do YOU post on Facebook?


I am endlessly fascinated by what people decide to post on Facebook, and even more enthralled why. One woman reports about her plane being delayed out of Chicago and another tells us where she dined that evening and what she consumed.  We even get to see a photo of her, her husband and a couple of unsmiling relatives seated in front of their half-eaten dinners.

Babies and grandbabies are popular subjects.

Cats and dogs are insanely popular.

Homemade cupcakes and other assorted snacks rank right up there.

Self-congratulatory posts abound.  Patting oneself on the back for everything from attending a conference to speaking at one, and from exercising to eating healthily.  Someone even congratulated herself for blow-drying her hair straight, for the first time after four years. Another showed off her pregnant belly as if she were the first woman ever to give birth. And yay for the woman who told us that she was able to send something from her mobile device to be printed by her office printer.  Now that was a bit of utterly fascinating information!

Kids’ sports achievements get their share of attention.

And who can ignore the stupefying number of vacation posts and photos from around the world?

One young woman I know, a graduate of an Ivy League university, astonishingly posts non-stop drivel about her life on Facebook, including the garbage she discovered on the floor of her car (left by one of her kids).  She used to be interesting.

I know. I know.  I don’t have to read all this stuff, but I can’t help myself. It’s riveting to learn what goes through our minds.  We used to keep most of it to ourselves.  Now that we have the means to let it all out, there’s no holding us back.

P.S. Just saw a post of a dog wearing purple sunglasses.